Queensland – Beautiful One Day, Confusing The Next

Just as we finished discussing the need for some reform in the structure of greyhound racing (see TAKING A SHOT, 23 Jan), or any racing, for that matter, out comes the extraordinary news that Racing Queensland has done a double back flip with twist.

A year or so ago RQ claimed that the previous decision to move from Albion Park to Logan, SW of Brisbane, was no good and wiped it from the books. Tens of thousands of dollars in preparatory costs went down the drain, to say nothing of confusing the civic fathers in Logan, who had put their shoulder to the wheel.

Then, later in 2011, RQ came up with plans for a multi-code development at Deagon, north of Brisbane airport. Dogs and trots were to move from Albion Park, thoroughbred trainers would be forced to move their training facilities elsewhere. An elaborate and expensive plan from consultants was presented to the public.

Greyhound people hated the Deagon location, harness people said no way would they move from Albion Park, horse trainers objected, as did the shadow Minister for Racing, and the council said RQ had not bothered to ask them about zoning. In any case, greyhound and harness codes jointly own Albion Park. RQ insisted and called public meetings to explain all. Spokesmen were shouted down.

Alternative proposals from the newly formed United Greyhound Association, representing most major trainers, were dismissed out of hand. Indeed, RQ actually refused to recognise the new group at all, saying that QBOTA was the only voice of the industry it would hear. Since RQ is responsible to the public, that is an astonishing act – perhaps an illegal one.

Then, lo and behold, this week RQ suddenly announced that Deagon was dead and Logan would become the greyhound industry’s future location. The Racing Minister issued a press release and called a “consultation” meeting to explain all. Action stations everyone!

So what changed? Why did the seven-member RQ board change its mind? It has only one greyhound delegate and we have heard not a peep there.

Well, the Premier has just announced that an election will be held on March 24 and it may well be that someone started counting up the votes potentially lost in two key areas of SEQ. But who knows?

Racing in Queensland has long been dominated by RQ chairman, Bob Bentley, who rammed through some unpopular changes in the gallops area – some of which have proved beneficial. But he has also been heavily criticised for his authoritative attitude and the lack of transparency in his decision to renew Queensland’s contract with SKY Channel over the competing TVN bid.

However, the opposition spokesman has stated in no uncertain terms that, if elected, the tri-code RQ would go and so would Mr Bentley. Each code would control its own destiny. The Liberal-National Party is considered by most commentators to be a shoo-in at the election.

Albion Park will be no loss to greyhound racing. Apart from its condemned grandstand, the track has always been difficult. The first turn see regular hassles while starting boxes at both ends of the tracks are poorly positioned because the harness folk have refused to allow the track to encroach on areas used for horse training circuits.

However, the more important question is whether a new broom can clean up the decline in numbers and quality of local dogs. For some years now the standard at Albion Park’s main Thursday night meeting has been dropping. Last night, for example, four of ten First Fours jackpotted, a sure indication of disruption and inconsistency. Once Novice races would never make the program but now there are always two. Squib’s races over 331m have been added (you can’t train for them, say local champ Tony Brett). Distance races are often short of a full field – only three low standard dogs met the starter last week at Ipswich, which is an even more disruptive track and an embarrassment to the industry.

Logan will offer a badly needed one-turn option, as well as a circle track (SA please note). This fills a void created when the government shut down Parklands at the Gold Coast with promises of compensation that were never met, and with no worthwhile plan for a replacement.

Just as challenging will be how the new Logan tracks are designed and built. The consultants used for the Deagon proposal showed at least one error on the evidence of the broad plan alone. Besides, they had virtually no greyhound experience anyway.

Queensland and the nation desperately need to conduct serious scientific investigations into track parameters and get rid of the “she’ll be right” attitude that persists everywhere.

The two broad questions of the development of new tracks and the administration of racing deserve in-depth investigation and review, not least because a good deal of public money is involved. Events in Queensland have demonstrated – at the very least – a distinct lack of professionalism. It is no good just saying you are right – you have to demonstrate that in practice, openly and fairly, and be held accountable. The incoming Racing Minster can start that ball rolling with independent racing boards.

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